A stamp showing a Portoguese impression of the Mutapa Gatsi Rusere. Notice the decidely European features. Image credit stampdata.com

A stamp showing a Portoguese impression of the Mutapa Gatsi Rusere. Notice the decidely European features. Image credit stampdata.com

ZIMSEC History O Level Notes: The Mutapa State: The Political Organisation of the Mutapa State

The King

  • The King was known as Mwenemutapa which translates to “the owner of the conquered lands” or Munhumutapa which translates to “he who conquered”
  • He was the overall ruler of the state and all subjects were loyal to him.
  • He was seen as divine or heavenly and accorded such status in order to make his subjects fear him as they were awed.
  • The King usually stayed in a capital called Zimbahwe (Portoguese Zimboa) meaning “house of stone.”
  • Nyatsimba Mutota the first Mwenemutapa organised the kingdom/state into provinces which had districts under them.
  • He appointed chiefs and his immediate advisors played an important role in the appointments.
  • The chiefs paid annual tribute as a sign of loyalty to the King.
  • The used diplomacy and force to subdue his subjects.
  • Rebellious chiefs were attacked by the empire’s army at the orders of the king.
  • Vassal chiefs were lighted their own fire from Mutapa’s Royal fire as a sign of allegiance
  • Vassal chiefs also paid tribute to the Mutapa.
  • He also used intermarriages with vassal chiefs as a way of strengthening his allegiances.
  • The King’s duties included:
  1. Chief judge- he tried cases and was the last court of appeal.
  2. He appointed chiefs in consultation with his advisors who included spirit mediums.
  3. Maintained strong army for defence against neighbouring states.
  4. He received and shared tribute
  5. Was the custodian of all the state property
  6. Allocated land
  7. Presided and oversaw religious ceremonies
  8. Presided over the chief’s council.

The Governor/Nengomasha

  • The governor of the provinces was also known as Nengomasha
  • He was the Deputy of the Munhumutapa and thus the second-most powerful person in the kingdom.
  • He was usually a blood relative of the Mutapa.
  • His duties and roles included:
  1. Leading the army in a campaign where the Mutapa was not involved.
  2. Being a contact point at the palace for the vassal chiefs or their representatives when they visited court.
  3. Assisting the Mutapa in the appointment of provincial chiefs when one chief died/resigned or was dismissed.
  4. Announcing to the visiting provincial leaders the orders of the king.
  5. Discussing important matters and developments within the state with the Mutapa.
  6. Acting as a regent when a Mutapa died before a new one was appointed.
  7. Ensuring the Mutapa orders were carried out throughout the kingdom/state.
  8. Keeping the king informed of what happened at the and the outlying provinces.

Spirit Mediums

  • They played an important role in uniting the state.
  • People respected and obeyed the spirit mediums.
  • In return they were given royal status by the king.
  • The chiefs communicated to the people through spirit mediums.

The army

  • The army ensured the survival and expansion of the state.
  • They crushed revolts and were sent to punish rebellious chiefs by the king.
  • Military commanders acted as advisors to the king and they were appointed by the King.
  • They enforced the law and order of the state through the kingdom and on vassal chiefs.
  • The army was usually run by the Captain-General known as Mukomohasha.
  • The general oversaw trade in addition to heading the army on behalf of the king.
  • He was also a chief strategist and in charge of military matters such as weapons, intelligence and enemy status.

The Judiciary

  • Judges held court every year at Mutiusinazita/Mbire.
  • Ambassadors were sent to the king each year to receive the royal fire as a sign of loyalty.
  • This efficient judiciary system was perfected by Mutapa Munembire/Munembiri.

Provincial Chiefs

  • They were appointed by the king.
  • They were responsible for administering the provinces through disseminating information to and from the king.
  • They resolved disputes and solved problems in their own provinces but referred all important matters to the king’s court.
  • These chiefs renewed their status every year by showing up at the Mutasa’s court as a sign of loyalty and to receive the royal fire.

District Chiefs

  • Each province was divided into districts which fell under district chiefs.
  • These implemented the state policy under the supervision of the provincial chiefs.
  • They handled matters within their districts but referred important matters to the provincial chiefs.
  • District chiefs were also responsible for appointing village heads and supervising them.
  • District chiefs acted as information officers for the state.

The Dare

  • Central administrations was done by the Dare
  • This was made up of the court chancellor, the treasurer, head drummer, nengomasha, cook, chief priests and diviners.
  • The treasurer was also referred to as a steward.
  • He received presents brought to the Mutapa court and was in charge of trade goods, supervised the royal finances.

Chief Musician/Door Keeper

  • Was in chage of the and of musicians provided for entertainment to the king and his court.
  • The chief musician/door keeper presented visitors to the king.
  • He would screen the king’s visitors.

Chief Confidant

  • Known as Mbokorume and as the king’s right hand man.
  • Was usually the king’s son in law but a brother in law or grandson could also hold the office.
  • He checked the loyalty of other principal officers in the state.
  • Could hold other temporary assignments e.g. leading the army.
  • Kept the king’s secrets.
  • Acted as the king’s fool.


  • Buried the Mutapa and anointed a new one.
  • Arranged biras i.e. religious ceremonies.


  • The chief n’anga was known as Netondo
  • He led the group of diviners at the court and in the provinces.
  • The king also had a herbalist.
  • They performed religious ceremonies.

The royal wives

  • In each provincial town there was a royal wife who checked on the loyalty of the provincial rulers.
  • Senior wives known as Mazvarire stayed at court and gave advice to the King.

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